Wednesday 21 August 2013

National Day Rally 2013: Reactions

From talking about ‘personal responsibility’ to thinking about ‘nation’
By Jeremy Lim, Published TODAY, 20 Aug 2013

Three decades ago, Singapore introduced Medisave, a scheme that would “enable Singaporeans to set aside their own savings to meet future hospitalisation expenses”. Since then, the lexicon of health planners has been filled with phrases such as “personal responsibility” and “avoid over-reliance on the State or medical insurance”. The share of national health expenditure has also increasingly been borne by patients and their families.

On Sunday evening, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong framed dramatically “a new way forward”, emphasising to Singaporeans “you will not be facing these challenges alone, because we’re all in this together”.

In his speech, Mr Lee declared that MediShield would become MediShield Life, covering every Singaporean from cradle to grave.

Why this change and some of the others in the Community Health Assist Scheme (CHAS) and outpatient subsidies? There are many reasons why this is long-overdue and it is perhaps worthwhile discussing them now since the Ministry of Health is still mulling the details.


The first cluster of reasons is technical. Healthcare costs are rising faster than salaries, and insurance is the most efficient way to spread the risk of catastrophic illnesses and large hospital bills. Some of us will die suddenly with almost no healthcare expenses, but some of us will incur massive bills treating cancer, stroke or heart disease and the like.

We, unfortunately, won’t know which group we will fall into. Hence, some will under-save and be vulnerable; others will over-save and forego opportunities to spend the monies meaningfully elsewhere, such as in children’s education.

Secondly, whether it is the Government or citizens, someone has to pay for healthcare. Recalibrating the financing mix is an opportunity to align incentives and minimise some of the wastage in the current hospital-biased, inpatient care system.

With MediShield Life being compulsory, insurers managing the scheme now have the incentive to deploy some of the MediShield dollars away from reactive disease care into proactive preventive health and stronger management of chronic diseases.

By keeping Singaporeans healthy, insurers can incur less expenses years down the road.

It must be a system-wide effort and we must rally all the stakeholders and transform our care model to be as cost-efficient as possible for all of us, public as taxpayers, patients, providers and payers.


On the generation of citizens in their late 60s or older, Mr Lee gave the reassurance of a “Pioneer Generation Package”: A one-off exceptional treatment for this group of Singaporeans to “make sure that our pioneer generation will be well covered and will not need to worry about healthcare in their old age”.

There are very strong technical grounds, at least when it comes to healthcare, to treat this group differently. This is the generation that did not benefit fully from the social security schemes such as the Central Provident Fund, Medisave and so on; and thus are vulnerable in today’s high-cost climate.

Their most pressing needs would be two-fold: One, support to enable good care of chronic conditions such as diabetes and high blood pressure, which have small but regular costs associated with medicines and tests (and hopefully this will be met by the expansion of CHAS and increased outpatient subsidies). And two, protection against losing their life savings due to major illnesses such as cancer, which MediShield Life should address.


The second cluster of reasons is political. In healthcare, the top concern among Singaporeans is affordability and this cuts to the core for most of us, not just the lower income but also the middle and higher income groups.

“Personal responsibility” may be good economics, but it is bad politics and even worse nation building. The Government Parliamentary Committee on Health last week highlighted that many identify with the old adage “it is better to die than to fall sick” in Singapore. Why should anyone love and even die for a country that, despite having the most millionaires in the world proportionately, allows its citizens to feel this way?

What the Prime Minister signalled on Sunday is that financials matter, and they will always matter, but people matter more. Healthcare for the people is an investment, an investment in Singaporeans and an investment in nationhood.

Amidst the euphoria of reform, I hope Singaporeans remember Mr Lee also emphasised that the subsidy/3M (Medisave, MediShield, Medifund) model by and large is a sound basis to finance healthcare for everyone else.

For the “future old” who have had the opportunity to set aside monies for healthcare and avail themselves of health insurance, we should be looking instead at how the existing framework can be strengthened to retain the positive elements such as encouraging some personal responsibility and prudence in spending, while overcoming the weaknesses now which, to me, revolve around excessive application of co-payments for virtually all health conditions and the strong financing bias towards hospital care.

The beginning of a new Singapore — yes, it’s as simple and profound as that. Nature teaches that the caterpillar metamorphoses to a beautiful butterfly; but the necessary intervening chrysalis stage is where it is most vulnerable. The Singapore healthcare system is metamorphosing. Let all good men and women continue the exhortations and encouragements that will further the process.

Victor Hugo once said: “There is nothing more powerful than an idea whose time has come.” That time has come, for Singapore.

Jeremy Lim is the author of “Myth or Magic: The Singapore Healthcare System”, which will be on sale in September at all major bookstores and online.

At the threshold of a new Singapore
By Eugene K B Tan, Published TODAY, 19 Aug 2013

In what is probably his most important National Day Rally speech yet, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong outlined a vision for Singapore that epitomises opportunity, hope, fairness and social solidarity. It marks a new direction in governance, and will form the basis of a strategic reconceptualisation of Singapore’s future and how we will get there.

In particular, Singapore’s search for the right balance in terms of role of the state, community and individual at a turning point in our history is crucial.

Mr Lee stressed that the community and Government must do more to support individuals; he pledged that the Government will do more to give every citizen, especially the low-income, a fair share in the nation’s success. Social safety nets will be strengthened, and more will be done to leaven our hard-nosed meritocracy.

While economic vibrancy remains essential to our well-being, the Prime Minister recognised Singaporeans’ growing desire for a home with heart and hope — that Singapore must engender within Singaporeans a deep sense of identity, belonging and rootedness to this place we call home.


The slew of policy shifts entailed a radical rethink of fundamentals that have served us well, and the changes have been more than two years in the making.

It has been slightly over two years since the bruising May 2011 General Election and a year since the commencement of Our Singapore Conversation (OSC). Mr Lee’s speech is seen as an indication of how well the Government has consulted Singaporeans, primarily through the OSC platform — and more importantly, how it has sought to respond to their concerns, fears and aspirations.

A week earlier, Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong spoke of Singapore as being at an inflexion point, where changes are needed to avoid a “mid-life crisis”. Indeed, Singaporeans desire a fundamental re-think of how Singapore has been governed — a re-calibration of state-people relations, as well as getting the balance right on (economic) value vis-a-vis values that define Singapore.

There will certainly be the view that the changes could be much bolder and quicker. But in ringing the changes, it is also crucial that there is no alienating effect.

Even a fundamental relook of policies that have served us well should not prompt us to throw the baby out with the bathwater. It should not be change for change’s sake; indeed, it will take a while to imagine and become accustomed to a good life that is based on rather different values to those of the past.


Singapore Inc’s hedonistic treadmill, with its emphasis on economic value, affluence and consumption, must now compete for mind-share with the growing importance of transcendental pursuits, values and quality of life.

In many respects, Singapore faces its first significant post-material challenge since independence: The existential introspection of “what does it mean to be Singaporean?” and “what does Singapore stand for?”.

It is how we deal with and answer these aspirational concerns that will determine Singapore’s future. The subtext of Mr Lee’s speech is that in defining our society, our shared values must discipline and enhance our shared purpose. GDP growth is a means to an end — but it must also serve social justice.

Even as we await further details of the policy changes, it is clear that the Government’s tight-fisted approach has made way for more government expenditures on what are increasingly being seen as social rights in a 21st century Singapore: Assurance of affordable quality health care and public housing. They will go a long way in reducing the anxieties of Singaporeans.

Yet beyond the announcements on the individual issues that are of deep concern to Singaporeans, Mr Lee’s articulation of how the social compact will be right-sized is very crucial. How do we manage the competing, and even conflicting, interests in the quest for a fair and just society?


Mr Lee’s refreshed approach to nation-building requires a recalibration of the roles of the individual, the community, and the State — whether it is about strengthening social safety nets, or re-defining success beyond academic achievements, or the successful helping the less successful.

This endorsement of co-creation, a combination of togetherness, self-reliance and resourcefulness, is timely. For a more caring and humane Singapore, individualism will need to co-exist with the communitarian spirit.

Will these policy shifts revitalise society, or will they sow the seeds of eventual decline? This has to be considered against a global context of many other nations — be it the United States, China or the Scandinavian states — also now doing their own recalibrations of the rights and responsibilities of the State, society and individual.

The traditional governing principles of free market individualism, socialism and welfare statism have been challenged by ageing populations, widening income gaps, globalisation, unemployment, economic turmoil, a more mobilised citizenry and other 21st century trends. Like every other country, Singapore will have to find its own unique equilibrium.

We are well-placed to shift towards a heavier responsibility on the part of the State and the collective.

But Mr Lee’s caution on healthcare costs reminds us how even well-intentioned public policies to enervate society can result in trade-offs and costs. This requires that we look, with eyes wide open, for a new and sustainable balance between self-reliance and social support.

Mr Lee’s speech, in short, is a clarion call for a fundamental re-booting of the social compact. There can be no turning back. Will Singaporeans rally behind him, his Government and fellow citizens as the country moves into uncharted waters? Where will this new course take us in 10, 20 years?

The Prime Minister seeks to reignite the passion and imagination of Singaporeans, as then-Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew did at another make-or-break juncture in nationhood — when independence was thrust upon Singapore 48 years ago. Protecting our precious inheritance will require us all to act in faith and as one.

Eugene K B Tan is an associate professor of law at the Singapore Management University School of Law, and a Nominated Member of Parliament

Seizing back the political initiative
Shift in governing philosophy from a tight fist to extending a helping hand
By Chua Mui Hoong, The Straits Times, 19 Aug 2013

FOR the first time since the 2011 General Election, I got the sense yesterday that the Government is seizing back the political initiative.

After two years of relentless hammering from citizens on its immigration policy/population policy/elitist system/inability to listen/ad infinitum, it changed several key policies, like slowing down the influx of foreigners and speeding up the building of train networks and public housing flats. But it also appeared uncharacteristically diffident.

Yesterday, the Prime Minister delivered a remarkable speech that might be viewed by some as a new government agenda, a mid- term election pledge, or a lover's ardent promise of a fresh start.

It was Mr Lee Hsien Loong's 10th National Day Rally speech since he became Prime Minister in 2004 and his most assured. The venue was the Institute of Technical Education headquarters and College Central in Ang Mo Kio, a technical training institute for less academic students.

It was a good place to flesh out the new governing philosophy which can be summed up in a phrase: the shift is from a tight fist to a hand up - extending a helping hand to people in need.

For a long time, when anyone needed help, the welfare-allergic PAP has preached individual self-reliance; family support; the community's many helping hands. Only when all avenues have been exhausted, should people turn to the State. This "tough love" approach - some might say tough luck would sum it up better - meant a person could go bankrupt or an entire family lose their home when a breadwinner is out of work, falls very ill or goes to prison.

But the Government recognises that given the changes taking place in societies here and abroad, arising from technological change and globalisation, it can no longer be the helping hand of last resort, but must be proactive in offering citizens a hand up.

It is doing so by trying to level up the chances of poor children, via generous childcare subsidies so they can get ready to compete in school. More places in top schools will be kept for students who may not have top grades but excel in other areas, and students without connections to these schools.

The biggest proof of this new philosophy: MediShield will be revamped to cover everybody, including those with prior illnesses, and for life. Extending coverage to the most vulnerable - who have the biggest medical bills - means big jumps in premiums. Mr Lee pledged that the Government would pay premiums of those who can't afford it, thus removing a previously obdurate obstacle to expanding Shield coverage.

This is the biggest - and most welcome - change to MediShield since its inception in 1990. I, for one, had not expected the PAP to cross this ideological Rubicon so quickly.

This new government approach to policy, mid-term election pledge and lover's promise, all wrapped in one: You are not alone, the State (with all its resources) is by your side.

(Crucial proviso, which Mr Lee laid out: But the individual and the community must also step up.)

Fiscal conservatives will ask: Where's the money coming from?

Market believers will fret: Will this blunt the drive to excel?

Reassuringly, some things don't change: Fiscal sustainability remains a guiding principle. So MediShield "must break even"; Medisave can be used for more outpatient treatments, but contribution rates will have to rise. At some point, taxes will have to go up.

As for the drive to excel, meritocracy remains the organising principle of Singapore society. Academic standards remain rigorous. But whereas poor children might have been expected to run the schools race barefoot and on bread and plain water, (in a manner of speaking), now the Government will make sure they are properly shod and fed to compete against better-off peers. But they run the race on their own merit, with no handicap to aid their scores.

You can call it a move from competitive meritocracy to a more managed one, where effort goes to ensuring every generation gets a more equal chance to compete against those with accumulated wealth and privilege.

As in the past, ministers will flesh out details of the policy shifts in the next weeks.

But the outline of the new philosophy gleaned from Mr Lee's speech shows that the Government is now ready to chart a bold, new way forward. Mr Lee was right in calling his Government's policies not just plans, but acts of faith in Singapore. He spoke of a fresh start, and a new beginning.

But will Singaporeans buy that vision?

This is the second part of the equation, about which little can be predicted.

Today, a fractious, querulous electorate is accustomed to throwing stones at just about everything the Government does.

Liberal-minded Singaporeans will be disappointed that Mr Lee spoke about getting the politics right, but said nothing about political change. No concessions were made on issues liberals care about, such as Internet and media freedom or giving more space to dissenting voices. Opposition supporters will note that every sentence uttered by Mr Lee was predicated on the assumption that the PAP will remain the dominant party in Singapore.

As MP Yeo Guat Kwang reportedly did at an event with businessmen, the PAP is wooing voters with songs that have titles like: "Do You Know I Am Waiting For You?", and "I Am By Your Side".

That is the 2016 question. Clearly, the wooing starts now.

Change, but with caution
By Robin Chan, The Straits Times, 19 Aug 2013

THE major policy shifts announced in the National Day Rally are to help citizens deal with the widening income gap and stagnating middle class - outcomes of the forces of technology and globalisation, and domestic social stresses.

And even as Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong unveiled changes to build a fairer society, he also urged prudence, stressing that these should not lead to abuse of benefits and erosion of self-reliance. "Let me sound a word of caution. All this is not without risk," he said.

Other countries offer lessons, and Singapore has to tread carefully and beware the pitfalls such as high debt and unemployment.

The United States, for example, has the world's highest health- care spending but with outcomes worse than in many developed countries, including Singapore.

In Finland, workers receive comprehensive protection but youth unemployment is at 20 per cent despite a good economy and education system.

Therefore, said Mr Lee, while the Government will do more for low-income families, this cannot undermine self-reliance.

While it will increase health-care spending, that cannot lead to over-consumption and unnecessary treatments.

And while the education system is being made more open and broader, academic standards and rigour cannot be compromised.

The changes are aimed at improving the lives of Singaporeans, but all good things have to be paid for, he reminded Singaporeans.

The Government can still afford to fund these measures from existing revenues, but in the longer term they will become more expensive, especially health care.

Therefore, Singaporeans must be prepared to pay for them whether through higher taxes or a cut in spending in other areas.

"We cannot saddle our children's generation with debt so as to pay for our consumption. And I think Singaporeans know this," he said. "We must pass on to our children a better Singapore than the one we inherited. We owe it to them to do so, just as we owe what we have today to our founding generation."

Outlining why the Government is changing its approach, he said Singapore is at a turning point.

Domestically, it is facing stresses from an ageing population and declining social mobility, compounded by day-to-day problems such as rising cost of living.

The global landscape is also in the midst of rapid change and uncertainty. Technology is transforming lives, with three-dimensional printing of medical devices, but also robots that are replacing skilled, professional jobs. Competition is also intensifying with China and India adding 10 million graduates each year.

Those with exceptional skills which are globally in demand, be it in finance, sports or culture, will do very well.

Mr Lee cited Real Madrid football star Cristiano Ronaldo, who visited Crest Secondary School last month and has 60 million Facebook followers, as an example. He quipped that he felt like a "little kucing kurap, looking at this mega star". (Kucing kurap is a Malay term for small fry.)

However, the many who are not as talented or lucky must work a lot harder, and may not earn more even as they experience less job security than before.

"So we are seeing competition and we are seeing income inequality rising, the top zooming away, middle class stagnating," he said.

But he had this assurance: "I understand your concerns. I promise you, you will not be facing these challenges alone, because we are all in this together."

Putting heart into policies
By Tan Chin Hwee, Published The Straits Times, 20 Aug 2013

THIS is my first time watching PM Lee Hsien Loong speaking "live" at the Rally. Beyond the watershed policies that he proposed, I could feel his sincerity and compassion as Mr Lee spoke from his heart. The relaxed and humorous tone of the delivery was refreshing and made him more down-to-earth.

Having done social work since my university days, I agree we should not forget the silent portion of the population versus those who might be overly vocal on online platforms - perhaps the ones who really need help might not be the ones voicing their needs, and the ones voicing their needs might not be the ones deserving more help.

The proposed enlarged youth community engagement with social work is an important right step - it is not happiness that makes us grateful; it is gratefulness that makes us happy. In Jim Collin's Good To Great, he talked about "Level 5" leaders, a special kind of leaders who take an organisation from good to great: They are highly ambitious but the focus of their ambition is not themselves but the greater good.

I am hopeful that the leadership of the country, particularly the bureaucrats, will be able to implement the new proposed policies with their hearts and not just with their heads. As Mrs Margaret Thatcher extolled: "There is no such thing as society. There are individual men and women and there are families."

The writer is president of CFA Society Singapore, a society of chartered financial analysts.

PAP sticks to mission of fair and just society
By Soon Sze-meng, Published The Straits Times, 20 Aug 2013

THE goal of a "fair and just society" was in Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's Facebook post and National Day Message.

He repeated it during the National Day Rally speech on Sunday: "The Government must intervene more to keep ours a fair and just society."

This goal appears to be linked back to the mission of the People's Action Party (PAP), which is to build a fair and just society where the benefits of progress are spread widely to all.

Some may be surprised to see on the PAP website that its mission is not more economically focused, while others may be surprised that it is so redistributive.

Understanding the PAP's mission is helpful in setting in context Mr Lee's speech on Sunday. The strategic shifts his Government will make are not radical departures from past practices.

The Government is not moving towards a different goal, but is pressing towards the same goal of building a fair and just society - a vision that has won over Singaporeans since 1959. In a way, with this speech, the PAP is returning to its roots.

But changing times - especially a more global labour market and onset of an ageing society - require strategic shifts to support the concepts of a fair and just society. The basic concepts for that society: First, the rule of law applies to everyone with due process.

Second, anyone should be rewarded equally for similar work and effort.

Third, equal opportunity to succeed should be provided to all, with more support being provided to those who start off with disadvantage.

The policies introduced during the rally are aligned to those goals and help ensure that the benefits of progress are widely spread to all.

For example, the health-care benefits for the "Pioneer Generation" support the concept that their past hard work and contributions which enabled our progress should be justly rewarded.

Setting aside more spaces for those without affiliation for primary school admission and providing Edusave to all provides more equal opportunities to succeed.

The writer is a regional director working in a multinational corporation.

Health-care shifts reflect new balance in cost share
By Phua Kai Hong, Published The Straits Times, 20 Aug 2013

THE health-care policy changes announced in the Prime Minister's speech are indeed significant.

The extension of MediShield into MediShield Life is tantamount to having a universal national health insurance similar to that of many social welfare systems in developed countries.

The Government will have to pay premiums for the poor. Pre-existing illnesses will also be covered. Some of these will be funded from taxes. Singaporeans will have to pay more from their Medisave for the new, higher premiums for MediShield Life.

Although there are some nuanced differences, the basic 3M financing model remains.

Medisave stays an individually funded medical savings account with options to pool from other family members' accounts, which will continue to emphasise personal and family responsibility for health.

And as Medisave balances remain healthy, the higher premiums for MediShield Life need not be funded by national taxes. This reduces the need to undertake the thorny, politically difficult issue of tax hikes to fund health insurance. Those without other means can still turn to Medifund.

With the 3M model, instead of the State being the single payer, each generation is expected to save and pay for their health expenses rather than cross-subsidising or passing over costs to the next generation.

But as the elderly population grows, the challenge is for the Government to keep the economy competitive so it has resources to finance more health care without having to tax shrinking younger age groups to unbearable levels.

Another significant gesture is the move by the Government to pay MediShield Life premiums for the "pioneer generation" of Singaporeans who have much lower earnings and savings, and little or no Medisave. Many opted out of MediShield when they could not afford the premiums.

This generation is now assured of medical care for life. This policy is commendable and consistent with Singapore's traditional values of filial piety and respect for our elders who contributed to today's wealth and prosperity.

Medisave will be extended to cover more chronic conditions for outpatient care, including cost-effective screening and immunisations. This will encourage the population to maintain their health to prevent expensive specialist hospital treatment. Hopefully, this will extend later to other forms of community-based long-term care as alternatives to institutional care.

So it is expected that Medisave savings will be raised to finance the expansion of such uses and the higher premiums for a more generous social health insurance plan. But the Government has indicated that it will also increase its share from 30 per cent to 40 per cent of total health expenditure.

This therefore signals a shared responsibility in the new social compact between the Government and Singaporeans. A new balance is to be forged between the individual (and family), community and the State. While these new policies may appear to be populist to cater for the increasing numbers of the ageing electorate, caution must be exercised to ensure that they will not lead to greater moral hazard and excessive consumption of health care in the future.

It will be interesting to study the full implications on the private health-care sector and the role of the market. Will the new policies lead to more spending for supplementary private Integrated Shield Plans? Will the increased public financing be matched with more control on high-cost technologies and excessive fees on the supply side? Or will it lead to greater equity at the expense of efficient utilisation of cost-effective health care by both providers and patients? The test of the new policies will depend on their implementation in the days and years to come.

Dr Phua, a health economist, teaches health and social policy at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, National University of Singapore.

MediShield: Pioneers deserve even more
By Kanwaljit Soin, Published The Straits Times, 20 Aug 2013

THREE cheers for the Prime Minister's National Day Rally speech on Sunday.

First, there was good news in the area of outpatient care. The Community Health Assist Scheme is now no longer limited to those over the age of 40 but will cover younger workers and their children. This will help lower-income families. There will also be more subsidies for specialists' outpatient care, especially for the less well-off.

Second - and the best news to my mind - was the announcement that the present MediShield scheme would be revamped and relaunched as MediShield Life. Cover will not stop at age 90 but will be for life and include bigger hospital bills.

This new scheme will truly become a universal health plan covering everyone, including those who have fallen out or have been excluded because of pre-existing illness.

PM Lee Hsien Loong cautioned that MediShield premiums would go up. I hope this increase will come with "front-loading" so that younger people pay higher premiums with the help of the proposed higher Medisave contributions, so life becomes financially easier for them in their old age.

Third, the recognition given to what Mr Lee called the "pioneer generation". This group has contributed much to the nation. However, some salient facts of this generation need to be highlighted.

Most people over 70 are not covered by the present MediShield and have very little in their Medisave accounts, especially older women who depend primarily on their children for medical expenses.

Premiums for today's MediShield are so high that many have dropped out. They will rise even more with MediShield Life. Even if the Government's Pioneer Generation Package helps pay for the premiums of MediShield Life, the question is: Who will pay the balance? After all, MediShield Life will still come with co-payments and deductibles, which patients must pay before insurance kicks in.

I would like to make a plea that if we really want to honour the pioneer generation who have missed out on the nation's economic success, then those aged over 70 or 75 should be covered automatically and completely by MediShield Life using the government budget. This will truly remove the burden of health-care costs from this generation.

The pioneer generation will pass on, and the scheme will not continue indefinitely as future generations, with better education and good jobs, will be better able to insulate themselves against health risks in old age.

Dr Soin is a former Nominated MP and immediate past president of Women's Initiative for Ageing Successfully (WINGS).

Sustainability is key
By David Chan, Published The Straits Times, 20 Aug 2013

PRIME Minister Lee Hsien Loong focused on several shifts in social policies in the areas of housing, health care and education. A key to success in these social policies is sustainability.

Sustainability was evident in PM Lee's rally speech. Changes in health policies are to be funded through higher Medisave contribution rates, and rises in MediShield premiums and taxes when economic conditions are right.

Sustainability was also relevant when he called on Singaporeans to work with the Government and the community to build a better Singapore for ourselves and future generations.

PM Lee described the plans as acts of faith in Singapore, stressing the need to ensure Singaporeans stay united and have an honest and trustworthy leadership - all important pillars of sustainability.

Beyond these fundamentals, there is a need to implement social policies in such a way that they are complemented and supported by all other public agencies, and reinforced by policies that may not appear to be "social" in nature.

This means the key performance indicators of economic and manpower agencies, and the evaluation of their policy success, have to be well integrated with the intended outcomes of social policies.

For example, an economic agency should focus not only on getting more investments, but also pay special attention to whether those billions translate into better-paying jobs for citizens in the lower- and middle-income groups. Manpower policies that raise employment rates must also improve job and career prospects of all Singaporeans.

At their core, the policy shifts in housing, health care and education mean that the state will be more proactive in taking care of vulnerable Singaporeans, and investing in every Singaporean to equalise opportunities, especially for those from less-advantaged families.

There is thus a need for social indicators that measure citizen well-being and quality of life, social mobility and diversity in success and excellence. These indicators need to go beyond counting the frequency of activities and events, to include clear and measurable key social outcomes and impact indicators.

Social policies have to be sustainable to achieve the intended policy outcomes and avoid unintended consequences. It is also important for policies to cohere and work together to lead to positive change, to prevent them from polarising or alienating people.

The writer is director of the Behavioural Sciences Institute, Lee Kuan Yew Fellow and professor of psychology at the Singapore Management University.

Improving the housing status quo
By Phang Sock Yong And David Lee, Published The Straits Times, 20 Aug 2013

THE Prime Minister's speech provides a broad brush assurance that the Government is working hard to improve the status quo in the housing sector.

On home ownership and upgrading, PM Lee Hsien Loong has reaffirmed the Government's objective to make home ownership more affordable for all first-time buyers, especially low-income earners, through increasing the amounts of targeted housing grant subsidies.

He spelt out the desired outcomes of housing affordability policy through his detailed matching of Housing Board flat type with household incomes. Also, the PM has continued to emphasise the dual role of housing as a social/consumption good as well as an investment asset.

Overall, we expect build-to-order HDB list prices to remain stable.

However, the actual prices paid by each household will deviate from the list price based on their household income.

Providing additional housing grants is an acknowledgement that housing prices have run ahead of wage growth, particularly for the lower income group.

Furthermore, the Government is introducing a new upgrading grant to help lower-income Singaporeans fulfil their upgrading plans.

On housing supply, the PM has also provided greater transparency with regard to future land supply via relocation of the Paya Lebar airbase and ports.

The plan to free up land in Paya Lebar and Tanjong Pagar will alleviate land scarcity concerns. He also mentioned the removal of building height restrictions (which means a potential revision in plot ratios) in the Paya Lebar area.

On balance, demand expectations are much stronger than supply expectations, especially leading up to 2016. This is a very bullish signal for investors, especially in the Paya Lebar and port areas, with the potential of increased plot ratios and lower noise levels.

These two plots potentially translate into two to three new town/downtown areas for Singapore.

Previously, announcements were made for three new town areas, namely Bidadari, Tampines North and Tengah. Thus, there is no lack of land supply for public and private housing in the core central region, rest of central region and outside central region planning areas in the foreseeable future.

The writers are professors with the Singapore Management University.

Housing policy moves towards greater inclusiveness
By Christine Li, TODAY, 20 Aug 2013

At this year’s National Day Rally, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced that the Special CPF Housing Grant would be extended to middle-income families looking to buy bigger Housing Board flats. The move is a significant one, in my opinion, as it represents a fundamental shift in policy approach that takes us a step closer to being a more inclusive society.

The Government has always exercised fiscal prudence when it comes to social spending. This pragmatic approach is to encourage self-reliance.

However, the downside is that the low- to middle-income group has not been able to keep up with the pace of the globalised world, and some have fallen through the cracks.

According to official data, the median Singaporean worker experienced real wage growth of 5.2 per cent (including employer CPF) from 2009 to last year. The prices of new and resale HDB flats have gone up by 12 per cent and 45 per cent respectively during the same period.

Middle-income families could well be bearing the brunt of the increase in housing prices, as the low-income families receive a lot more aid from the State.

The Government has realised the problem and acted on it quickly. During this year’s Budget speech, a slew of measures was announced to meet the diverse housing needs of those who were previously sidelined. First-timer singles, expectant mums, parents with young children and Singaporean with foreign spouses all had their fair shares of the pie after recent tweaks in housing policies.


Our Singapore Conversation was also carried out for the public to rethink the role of public housing. However, housing is multi-dimensional, and it is almost impossible to come up with an ideal solution to help the new entrant without affecting the prices of existing homes.

This could explain why the Government still prefers plain vanilla policies over complex recommendations suggested by market players — such as selling new flats at cost-based prices minus land value, a longer minimum occupation period and selling flats back to the HDB at some predetermined price.

To me, increasing subsidies to home buyers is the right approach, as direct handouts can be easily understood by the general public, and the benefits are immediate.

The flexibility of allowing couples to purchase a bigger flat with extra help is also a big plus, as it removes concerns over not having enough space if they are planning for larger families.


Based on the example cited by Mr Lee during the NDR, if a family earning S$4,000 were to buy a four-room Build-To-Order (BTO) flat worth S$285,000, the S$20,000 extra grant translates into a monthly cash savings of S$91.

This might not be a big sum at a glance, but over a period of 25 years, the savings can still be substantial considering the amount of interest one could save by paying less on the principal.

The extra cash the new grant brings can be used to pay for school fees and textbooks for young children, or outpatient treatment for the elderly, and so on. It could ease the burden of many cash-strapped low- to middle-income families, who might be living from hand to mouth.

The Government is also using a shorter loan repayment period to calculate the affordability of a flat. Though a small move, it helps with the financial planning of the vulnerable group, allowing them more leeway to build up their retirement savings.

I remember our fiscally prudent Government was once criticised for lacking compassion and flexibility when responding to the needy, who might not meet all the criteria under various social welfare schemes.

But from what I see in this year’s NDR, we are heading in the right direction, towards a more inclusive society. Bit by bit, we should see these efforts bear fruit.

Ensuring an open, inclusive education system is key
By Sandra Davie, The Straits Times, 20 Aug 2013

ON SUNDAY night, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced key changes to the education system, ranging from extending Edusave grants to more students to replacing the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) scoring system.

They were significant moves. As Mr Lee said, they will help to ensure that the education system remains open and inclusive.

The two changes that were eagerly anticipated by parents were the ones concerning the Primary 1 registration and the PSLE.

On the Primary 1 registration, Mr Lee announced that from next year, schools will reserve places for those with no prior connections to the school.

The more important PSLE change, though, will come a few years later when the T-score system will be replaced with grades like in the O- and A-level examinations.

These two topics had been hotly debated.

One of the complaints over the registration scheme has been about the priority given to different groups - alumni, those with church and clan links, and parent volunteers. Parents wanted this changed because the lion's share of the places in popular schools would go to those with connections, shutting out those without links.

Mr Lee admitted that this was already happening. Henry Park Primary, for instance, had only nine of the 300 places remaining for phases 2B and 2C this year, after the phases for applicants with siblings there or whose parents are alumni.

"If we do nothing, one day, these schools may have no such places left at all," Mr Lee said.

So parents welcomed the tweak that Mr Lee announced, but many felt that the Government could have gone further and reserved more than 40 places for those without connections.

One parent, who has his eyes on nearby Henry Park for his daughter, pointed out that if the change had been instituted this year, more than 90 places would still have gone to the school's alumni. "Why so many places to alumni?" he asked.

Like many parents, he feels that it would have been fairer if the 40 places were set aside for Phase 2C alone. He also feels that parents will find a way around the new rule.

He is not wrong. In fact, some alumni parents have already been considering moving nearer the schools of their choice to hedge their bets. If the number of applications exceeds places in the Primary 1 registration, those living near the school will have priority.

The PSLE change was better received, with many parents hoping that the new scoring system will be put in place soon before their children sit the examination.

For years, parents had been urging the Government to change the T-score system, complaining that it sorts children too finely and adds to stress over the exams.

Still, not all parents were happy with the solution that the ministry came up with.

Parents were full of questions yesterday on how exactly schools will admit students, since they will have a wider pool of applicants to choose from.

The Education Ministry said it has yet to work out the details, but some parents are worried that schools will select students based on less measurable attributes such as leadership potential and character. This will lead to a more subjective and less transparent admission system.

Those who are happy with the change, though, point out: If the system is accepted for junior college, polytechnic and university admission, then why not for admission into secondary school?

But perhaps, as Education Minister Heng Swee Keat said in his Facebook posting on the changes, there is no perfect policy that can satisfy everyone.

What parents should ask themselves is: Will the new schemes give schools more space to focus more on the holistic development of their children and build a more diverse student body necessary for social mixing?

Do the changes help to open up the schools and the system as a whole to students from various backgrounds and ensure that education will continue to be the social leveller?

If the answer to these questions is "yes", then we should welcome the changes.

PM's move bold and necessary, say analysts
But some feel specific policy shifts are incremental rather than radical
By Robin Chan And Goh Chin Lian, The Straits Times, 20 Aug 2013

A DAY after the Prime Minister laid out a new way forward for Singapore, economists and politicians praised the shift for being a bold and necessary move in rebalancing the relationship between the State and the Singaporean.

But while Mr Lee Hsien Loong's National Day Rally (NDR) speech hit the right notes, the specific policy changes he announced drew a mixed reaction.

Some felt they were incremental rather than radical. Others said they were sparse on the numbers and details, leaving them guessing how much of an impact the changes would make and who would foot the bill of say, the new MediShield Life health insurance scheme.

Still, the changes show that the Government recognises the need to adapt its policies to a changing context for Singapore, said senior fellow and economist Donald Low of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy.

"We have recalibrated the balance between the State, the market and the individual. The orientation is correct now," he said.

"We were in danger of ideologising the earlier social compact and its emphasis on meritocracy, individual effort and the fear of moral hazard," he added.

"But the latest changes are a step in the right direction."

In his Rally speech, Mr Lee unveiled broad changes that would expand health-care coverage, increase housing grants to middle- income families, and make education more open and broad.

Several economists said the moves are an advancement of the shift to strengthen the social safety net that began in 2007. That was when the Government introduced the Workfare Income Supplement scheme for low-income workers who stay employed. Gradually, the scheme was expanded.

At the Rally, Mr Lee said the changes were prompted by global forces, Singapore's ageing society and growing inequality leading to social stratification. This has caused anxiety and uncertainty among many Singaporeans, and with the country at a turning point, a new approach to policies was required, the PM added.

Speaker of Parliament Halimah Yacob saw the new path as a "clear shift" with tangible changes to some longstanding policies.

"Although the Government is loath to cloak its policies in ideological terms... I can't help feeling that socialists would have said that some of the thinking behind these changes are quite aligned to theirs," she said. Socialists favour greater redistribution of wealth.

Former Nominated MP Siew Kum Hong felt most of the changes build on past and existing policies, but "this NDR marks a tipping point of sorts, at least in terms of public perception".

Some Singaporeans, however, are worried about the price tag of the new MediShield Life, a universal, compulsory national health insurance scheme for life.

Mr Lee has indicated taxes will rise or cuts will be made in other spending areas over time as "all good things have to be paid for".

Economists said it was difficult to estimate the extra costs, especially in the face of an ageing population, rising health-care costs and increasing longevity. The Government can afford it for the first few years, said Bank of America Merrill Lynch economist Chua Hak Bin, but "tax rates may have to increase at some point".

DBS economist Irvin Seah suggested the Government could take more contributions from current returns on the reserves invested when the need arises, but it would leave less for investment later.

"The fact that we are starting to plan early means we can garner the financial resources to make the plans materialise," he said.

Mr Low added: "The costs at this point are not very significant... But this is not the final set of concessions. This is the start of more to come."

For the Government, going beyond an old script
By Donald Low, Published TODAY, 21 Aug 2013

The Prime Minister’s National Day Rally on Sunday has been well-received by most Singaporeans, including critics of the Government. They have praised not only the significant policy shifts in healthcare, education and housing but also the commitments the Prime Minister made. One such shift was the promise to ensure that every Singaporean family that is working will be able to afford a Housing Board flat.

He also demonstrated that his Government had a vision extending well beyond the next 20 years.

In the final minutes of the rally, Singaporeans were treated to a grand plan: Changi Airport will be expanded, and Paya Lebar Air Base and the maritime ports moved to Changi and Tuas respectively. Underlying this plan was a promise of urban renewal because our cityscape will again be transformed, by the freeing up of vast tracts of land at Paya Lebar and our southern coast.

But, taken as a whole, what do the policy shifts and the vision of urban renewal signal? I would argue that they reflect a Government that continues to believe in the currency and relevance of its long-established script — but also one which is prepared to deliver its lines and perform its role differently.


First, consistent with the long-standing social compact in Singapore, the Government will continue to be activist in a limited number of areas — specifically housing, education and healthcare. In these areas, the State is prepared to expand social protection, increase spending and ensure wider, more affordable access for a large swathe of Singaporeans.

What has changed in recent years is that rising inequality, population ageing and greater political contestation have created a new context that makes it necessary for the Government to recalibrate the balance between state and market, between social protection and individual responsibility. The result of this recalibration has been a gradual accretion of policies, since 2007, aimed at easing the higher cost of living experienced by older, and low and middle-income Singaporeans.

Second, the Rally demonstrated that under the People’s Action Party Government, Singapore’s policies will continue to be premised on the values of self-reliance and meritocracy.

Indeed, the Prime Minister took pains to stress that meritocracy must continue to be one of the key organising principles of Singapore society.

What has changed in recent years is that a more contested political environment now requires the Government to embrace a softer version of self-reliance, and a fairer and more compassionate form of meritocracy. But I would also contend that if the Government is genuinely committed to building a compassionate, fair and inclusive society, it will have to take the policy shifts announced further — and consider a few ideological ones. There are at least three fronts where this will have to occur.


The policy changes in education do not seem to question the necessity of standardised national examinations for 12-year-olds. Instead, the announcements were focussed on the second order question of how the current Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) scoring system would be made less precise and less anxiety-inducing for parents.

Such a framing of the education debate ignores many of the contradictions of our education system. One of these is the Ministry of Education’s (MOE) assurance that “every school is a good school”, contrasted with the fact that our examinations system assesses students in relative, not absolute terms. It is not enough to be “good” if there are others who are better.

The MOE’s approach of defining “good” in absolute instead of relative terms sits uncomfortably with the internal logic of Singapore-style meritocracy. Consequently, the assurance rings hollow in the eyes of many. This is worsened by the fact, known to psychologists, that people tend to assess quality in relative terms rather than on absolute measures.

What about the Prime Minister’s argument that a variegated education landscape with multiple peaks of excellence is superior to a flat landscape of merely good schools?

In his words, the latter scenario — where every school is no different from the next — results in mediocrity.

While no one seriously disputes that diversity and variety in our education system is superior to uniform mediocrity, this seems to ignore a third possibility: That we can have high standards across the board and a relatively low variance in performance.

Finland is commonly cited as an example of one of the education systems that seemed to have squared the circle: High average standards, low variance in performance.

If we are serious about reducing the anxiety that people face when choosing a school, we need to have a more open discussion about the variance in the current education system, and how we should strive to reduce it.


It is tempting to dismiss the Primary 1 registration system as broken, but the fact that it has endured with but a relatively minor tweak suggests otherwise. The system probably works well for a large number of Singaporeans, and a complete overhaul of it may not seem worth the risks.

But an overhaul may well be in order as the P1 registration system still favours the connected — either alumni or sibling connections. Of course, this is not to suggest that six-year-olds should now take open exams to secure a spot in a primary school. Such an allocation system will inevitably benefit families better able to afford to prepare their children for an entrance exam.

Perhaps we should consider an alternative that, while not merit-based, is at least not un-meritocratic: Balloting.

The Prime Minister argued that such a random process would result in uniformly mediocre schools; implicit in his conclusion is the concern that by randomly distributing children with varying abilities, we stymie the development of outstanding schools. But it is unclear why this is the only possible outcome, or even the most likely. It is a waste to dismiss this option without holding it up to closer public scrutiny.


Meritocracy in Singapore has always had an egalitarian streak. The belief is that through hard work and merit, people could achieve success irrespective of their race, wealth, connections or family background.

For a while, meritocracy led to significant social mobility. However, Singapore (as with other meritocratic societies) has arrived at a point where meritocracy can no longer insure social mobility. This is because the successful can transmit their advantages to the next generation, resulting in an increasingly skewed playing field.

It is only fitting that the conversation should now shift to the extent by which the Government should level the playing field. This is especially so since its new mantra appears to be “compassionate meritocracy”, one in which those who have succeeded help those who have not done as well.

It may well be impossible to completely level the playing field. To do so, the Government would have to engage in massive redistribution to curtail the rich’s ability to procure advantages for their children. Such an approach is probably not tenable — neither economically nor politically.

But there is an entire range of intermediate responses between a vastly-skewed playing field and a completely level one. It is for us to figure out, through debate and democratic deliberation, where we would like to be as a good society.

Donald Low is Associate Dean (Executive Education and Research) at the Lee Kuan Yew of Public Policy at NUS.

Moving beyond competition, to what matters more
By Jake Goh, Published TODAY, 21 Aug 2013

The coming changes to the education system announced by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at his National Day Rally are long-awaited and welcomed, particularly by participants of Our Singapore Conversation who had spoken passionately on these issues.

While some changes such as the extension of Edusave contributions and the reserving of 40 places for Primary 1 registration will be implemented in 2014, others will be spread over years, as they impact students, teachers, schools, parents and the community. The Ministry of Education (MOE) needs more time to work through the changes so that all stakeholders have enough time to adjust.

What kind of impact will the changes have and what are some possible challenges in implementation?


The T-score ranks students while taking into account the difficulty level of the paper and the standards of each cohort, and students are posted to secondary schools based on how well they performed. As such, it is on one level fair and meritocratic. However, there are several disadvantages of T-scores.

We see students who are already in Band 1 for their subjects being sent for tuition just to maintain their grades or strive for better results, because parents have no idea what each cohort’s standard may be. This is because the T-score is calculated based on a bell curve, meaning, if many people do well for a paper, there is a potential reduction of one’s individual score and vice versa.

The T-score, in this sense, is a moving target. It results in over-preparation by parents and teachers who want to play safe.

It promotes competition and discourages collaboration, because there is only a certain number of people who can be awarded an A* — not everyone who scores 91 out of 100 on a paper might get one. As such, it is more important for a student to outperform his peers than for him to help them do equally well.

The T-scores will be replaced with wider bands of grades, similar to the O and A-Levels, removing the fine distinction between points. But will the bell curve element remain? That, to me, is key. Will the new grading system bring about a mindset change among students, encouraging them to, instead of hoarding knowledge and resources, help each other to do well?


One of the biggest challenges of using grade bands instead of aggregates of T-scores will be deciding which students to admit to a particular school, when many of them have the same grades.

Would it be, for instance, modelled after the points system of the Joint Admissions Exercise in the O-Levels, where various bonus points also come into play? Speculation is high, and the MOE can be expected to reveal more soon.

Regardless, it is safe to say competition for places at the top secondary schools will continue to be tough. In this regard, Mr Lee announced that Direct School Admissions would be broadened to include students with “special qualities”.

The main challenge would be setting the criteria. How do we objectively measure resilience, drive, character and leadership? Is a leader in a particular co-curricular activity (CCA) who won a medal better than another who is a leader in the same CCA but did not win anything?

Parents can expect more subjectivity in future when these changes are implemented. They should see that developing character, attitude and passion for learning is just as important as doing well academically. They should realise that the MOE is embarking on a student-centric, values-driven phase of education.


A good start will be made in reserving at least 40 places in every school for Phase 2B and 2C; the MOE has clarified that these places will be on top of those that would be still available after Phase 2A. Still, more should be done to help lower-income families get into nearby primary schools, to help reduce their transport costs.

The long-term solution to this perennial annual anxiety for parents is for the MOE to make every school truly a good school — and more importantly, to make this be seen by all. Parents should be more involved in their child’s education instead of just relying on a “popular” school to ensure success. Some statistics from the MOE could help convince parents that all schools are capable of producing good students.

Overall, the changes are a step towards giving students more options and opportunities to realise their potential regardless of background. It will require everyone to work with the MOE to continuously build on and improve these policies.

Jake Goh is the Principal of a private kindergarten and participated in the Our Singapore Conversation on education. He is interested in educational trends around the world.

A fairer meritocracy
Providing equal opportunity to succeed is important in a fair, just society
By Soon Sze Meng, Published TODAY, 20 Aug 2013

A fair and just society is necessary to ensure that meritocracy remains a fair “organising principle of Singapore’s society”, benefitting all as our country grows richer and more unequal.

Meritocracy ensures progression from merit based on hard work and abilities rather than gender, race and age. In the early years of Singapore, when most people were at similar starting positions, many deemed meritocracy to be fair.

Recently, with greater acknowledgment that a merit-based system may favour the rich and connected more than the less well off, some have questioned whether we have a fair meritocracy. Parents with more time, money and connections invest more in their children to help them to succeed in life.

When starting in Primary One, a child from a rich family can be way ahead in skills and knowledge due to family environment and enrichment classes, as compared to a child from a poor family with similar innate ability. Subsequently, it is more likely he or she will do better in the PSLE (Primary School Leaving Examination), allowing entrance to a more competitive secondary school.

Therefore, providing equal opportunity to succeed, which is an important concept in a fair and just society, is necessary to ensure a fair meritocracy. Moving away from the fine distinction of PSLE scores acknowledges the reality that children from wealthier families may have the early edge. Ensuring spaces for those without affiliation for primary school admission, providing Edusave to all, and allowing subjects to be taken regardless of streaming in secondary education -- all provide students with more opportunities to succeed at the start and throughout their schooling years.

The investment in pre-school education, such as setting up of government kindergartens and subsides for non-anchor pre-schools, and additional smaller classes in primary schools for weaker students, supports equal opportunities for all.

Cumulatively, these recent education policies support social mobility where abilities and hard work of children will play a greater role in their success than their parent’s income and education.

PM Lee also spoke at length about the importance of having top secondary schools – which may sound contradictory after introducing policies to ensure equal opportunity and stressing that all schools are good schools. These top schools’ students, however, should not just come from similar wealthier background and feel entitled to their success. Mr Lee emphasised that these top schools must attract qualified students from all backgrounds and also to take into account attributes such as character, leadership and volunteerism.

Only with a fair meritocracy, enabled by a fair and just society to sustain social mobility, will we have many Singaporeans like Dr Yeo Sze Ling – cited by Mr Lee for having done very well academically in spite of her blindness – who can continue to succeed on their own merit regardless of background.

Soon Sze Meng holds public policy and business administration degrees and works in a multinational corporation.

Making sure Changi remains a Jewel
By Karamjit Kaur, The Straits Times, 22 Aug 2013

IT IS a new jewel in the crown of Changi Airport's efforts to stay ahead of regional rivals - the multi-storey complex, codenamed Jewel, that was unveiled at the weekend.

The structure, being designed by the man who dreamed up the iconic Marina Bay Sands, architect Moshe Safdie, is "something special", said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Sunday.

Jewel and all its glittering shopping and dining delights is Changi Airport's latest development to boost its appeal to global travellers, and aims to keep Singapore on the throne as South-east Asia's key airport and air hub.

News of the project, part of a Terminal 1 upgrade, comes amid exciting expansion times at Changi. Plans for what is dubbed Changi II are to be revealed soon by the Transport Ministry, and include a mega Terminal 5, cargo complexes and a third runway.

The expansion, however, takes place amid not so much an exciting time as a turbulent one.

Where once it would have been unheard of for world-renowned Changi Airport to be anything but a soar-away success, regional airports are now taking off too.

Make no mistake. Competition is tough, say industry players.

Geographically, Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok are better placed to serve as a hub linking travellers from Europe to Asia, they note, and both plan to ramp up passenger capacity to 100 million a year.

Dubai Airports has also announced a US$7.8 billion (S$9.9 billion) expansion strategy to boost its capacity from 60 million to 90 million passengers by 2018.

In comparison, Changi currently has room for 66 million passengers a year. By 2018, when Terminal 4 is up and running and Jewel opens, this will rise to 85 million.

And the challenges keep coming: Kuala Lumpur International Airport is planning its own shopping "gem" - a 35,000 sq m, 11-storey complex with three retail floors - while South Korea, Hong Kong, India and Dubai are pouring billions into expanding terminals and runways.

Seoul's Incheon Airport is giving not just Changi Airport, but Singapore's integrated resorts and Formula One thrills a run for their money, with a multi-billion dollar plan to build an airport city, complete with a casino, an F1 racing track and a concert hall that can seat 50,000.

Airports have to work hard to retain and grow business, said Assistant Professor Terence Fan, an aviation expert at Singapore Management University's Lee Kong Chian School of Business.

He noted: "Just look at Qantas and how it pulled its hub out of Singapore and moved to Dubai."

After decades of operating its Australia-Europe flights via Singapore, the Australian carrier left for Dubai in March after signing a partnership deal with Emirates.

Hence the importance of projects like Jewel, which could help sustain the interest of travellers, visitors and airlines who have multiple destinations and airports to choose from.

Reassuringly, Ms Angela Gittens, director-general of Airports Council International, a global trade body that represents major airports, said Singapore is on the right track with plans to add capacity even as others like Indonesia and Vietnam fall behind.

But Changi Airport must also be nimble and quick to react to industry developments and work hand in glove with airlines and other partners, analysts said.

Some in the industry have said that the third runway needs to open soon, citing examples of airlines not getting the landing and take-off slots they want.

Still, Changi's success so far, and how it is rolling out new ways to woo customers, reflect wise strategic planning in the past.

Policymakers must have sensed turbulent skies ahead when they split the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS) in 2009 to create Changi Airport Group as a separate corporate entity to run the airport.

A smaller CAAS remains a statutory board of the Transport Ministry to regulate the industry, giving the unlisted airport group flexibility to get on with the job.

Had it not been done, it is unlikely that Jewel would have been cleared for take-off.

The backdrop for attractions like Jewel is the fact that demand for air travel in Asia is set to soar and, naturally, Changi is going all out for the lion's share.

So far, it is flying high. In the year to end-May, the Singapore airport welcomed 50.9 million travellers, based on data collated by Airports Council International. The only other Asian airport that did better was Hong Kong, with 56.7 million global passengers.

Changi's 7.1 per cent growth for the period, however, outpaced Hong Kong's 4.1 per cent.

With Terminal 4 coming up in 2017 and Jewel a year later, there is much to keep Changi busy in the next few years.

Forty years after Singapore made the bold decision to shut Paya Lebar and build Changi Airport against the advice of external consultants, similar foresight and boldness is needed now more than ever to prevent others from stealing that Jewel-encrusted Changi crown.

Changi Airport's Project Jewel could create up to 1,000 jobs, experts say
By Lip Kwok Wai, Channel NewsAsia, 24 Aug 2013

Human resource experts have said that Singaporeans could expect up to 1,000 new jobs with the development of Project Jewel at Changi Airport.

The opportunities would include areas in retail, food and beverage, as well as shopping mall and facilities management.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced plans to build the facility at the 2013 National Day Rally on August 18.

The lifestyle destination at Changi Airport would feature a range of retail outlets and unique leisure attractions.

Experts believe there would be time to further prepare the workforce for Project Jewel, which is to be ready by 2019.

There are relevant courses in places like polytechnics and the Singapore Workforce Development Agency, but they do not expect a sharp increase in places for these courses.

Amos Tan, a lecturer at Singapore Polytechnic Business School's marketing-retail management section, said: "We (Singapore Polytechnic) have provided many relevant courses to upgrade people to relocate them into different industries.

"If you were to look at it from this angle, we would actually be able to provide more job opportunities and retrain our Singaporeans.

“I feel that there would be a slight increase in terms of intake of students, but I don't think it will be drastic because after all, retail experience comes from hands-on experience instead of classroom training.”

Transport corridors, lifting of height limits after airbase moves
By Melissa Tan, The Straits Times, 22 Aug 2013

NEW transport corridors and the relaxing of height restrictions for at least six housing estates in the north-east and east are in store after the air force moves out of Paya Lebar, the Ministry of National Development (MND) said yesterday.

The relocation of the Paya Lebar Airbase, expected to happen after 2030, will free up 800ha of land for redevelopment.

"The large size of the site and its fairly central location give rise to many exciting possibilities for new developments to enhance the living environment in the eastern part of Singapore," MND said in an e-mailed statement in response to media queries.

There was "potential to introduce new transport corridors across the land", it added, and height restrictions could be lifted in several towns currently affected by flight paths.

These towns include Toa Payoh, Hougang, Sengkang, Punggol, Bedok and Tampines.

MND also told The Straits Times that existing height restrictions for buildings affected by flight paths range from between one and two storeys for industrial buildings in Kaki Bukit Industrial Estate, to between 16 and 17 storeys for housing developments in Punggol.

Transport experts said yesterday that an MRT line, as well as major roads and expressways, could be built through the 800ha of land freed up by the relocation.

National University of Singapore transport researcher Lee Der Horng said that a Cross Island MRT Line proposed by the Government in January would previously have had to go around the airbase rather than through or under it due to security reasons.

"But now that the airbase will be relocated, there's no need to compromise (on the line's route). It could also be built cheaper and faster," Professor Lee said.

Slated to be ready by 2030, the planned 50km Cross Island Line will run from Jurong to Tampines.

Nanyang Technological University adjunct associate professor Gopinath Menon, a retired Land Transport Authority planner, noted that parts of the Kallang-Paya Lebar Expressway (KPE) had to be built underground because of the airbase.

"The KPE could be moved to the surface level," he said, adding that any new township built on the vacated land would require surface-level access roads. That township could also get its own MRT station.

Knight Frank research head Alice Tan said future developments in the area would complement the growth of the proposed North Coast Innovation Corridor, a commercial belt stretching from Woodlands and Sembawang to the future Seletar Regional Centre and Punggol.

However, CBRE Research associate director Desmond Sim said that the impact of the relocation on property prices in surrounding areas "would depend on how state planners react". He expects the Urban Redevelopment Authority to release Singapore's Master Plan 2013 - a statutory plan on land use - by early next year.

Paya Lebar Airbase is surrounded by low-density developments such as industrial estates, but consultants said that the land use for those areas could eventually be intensified or changed.

As for the towns such as Bedok and Tampines that could have height restrictions relaxed, Mr Sim said the future en bloc potential could result in property prices appreciating 10 per cent to 20 per cent.

However, he cautioned against any "knee-jerk" price rise, saying the airbase relocation was many years down the road.

MND said yesterday that the relocation was "a large-scale endeavour and will take time to realise". It added: "The specific new development plans for Paya Lebar Airbase and the surrounding area will be shaped over time."

GST hike ‘more likely’ if Govt needs to raise revenue for new initiatives
By Wong Wei Han. TODAY, 22 Aug 2013

The Government is unlikely to raise income tax to pay for the slew of healthcare, housing and infrastructure initiatives announced by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong during the National Day Rally as doing so could risk damaging Singapore’s appeal for businesses and investors.

The Goods and Services Tax (GST) might instead be the first in line for an increase should the Government need to raise revenue to help build a stronger social safety net, economists have told TODAY.

“Raising income tax is not very possible if Singapore wants to remain relevant for multinational corporations and high-income global talents,” UOB economist Francis Tan said.

“A more probable venue for change is the consumption tax bracket, and I do not think it’s impossible for us to increase GST from the current 7 per cent to 10 per cent. For years we’ve been cutting income-related taxes to move towards a more consumption-based system. This is to make Singapore more attractive than other developed countries where income tax rates are much higher. I don’t see us reversing this trend.”

Barclays economist Joey Chew pointed out that in Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam’s Budget 2012 speech, he compared the Republic’s income tax levels with those of Hong Kong. Mr Tharman had said that income taxes are significantly higher at the top end of incomes compared with Hong Kong and, as result, there is a limit to how high taxes can go at the top end without hurting competitiveness.

Hence, a GST hike is more likely, said Ms Chew, adding that the Government is well-prepared should such a move prove necessary.

“GST is regressive, but the government would provide offsets to lower-middle income households, as they have done so in previous rounds of GST hikes,” she said. “Now that we have the permanent GST Voucher Scheme, the offsets are even easier to implement. The groundwork has already been laid for an eventual increase in GST.”

On Sunday, Mr Lee cautioned that “all good things must be paid for”, either by raising taxes or cutting other spending so that future generations will not be laden with debt. This follows previous statements made by Mr Lee and other ministers suggesting that higher taxes are on the cards in Singapore after years of relatively low rates.

Regardless of how the government plans to fund the higher social spending, Singapore will not feel the pinch in the near future as it has ample financial resources to support the measures, said CIMB economist Song Seng Wun.

“Take the last fiscal year ending March 2013 as an example. Singapore’s operating revenue — mainly from collection of taxes, including GST — was S$55.8 billion. Including other revenue such as land sales, the gross earning was S$80.4 billion,” Mr Song said. “Of that, we spent a total of S$46.2 billion. So, we have some S$34.1 billion in surplus.”

He added: “Over the longer run, as our population ages, Singapore’s operating revenue might shrink, and spending rise — only then would we need to increase tax, in which case I think the government will more likely focus on GST ... Overall, I don’t see our business attractiveness or growth potential getting diminished (by the new measures).”

Ultimately, tax rates are just one of the determinants of Singapore’s business potential, said Mr Tay Hong Beng, KPMG’s head of tax in Singapore. “Investors also look at other factors such as political stability, business infrastructure and the ease of doing business,” Mr Tay said.

It is also possible for the Government to increase revenue without raising tax rates, he added, by improving Singapore’s competitiveness in the global marketplace. “(This will) lead to rising incomes, and hence tax collections.”

A new balance
In his National Day Rally on Sunday, the Prime Minister outlined a new way forward in social policy. It will shift the balance between government, community and individual.
By Robin Chan, The Straits Times, 24 Aug 2013

THIS year's National Day Rally was unusual in being less about saving and investing for the future than about spending for the present.

Unusual, in being a lot less focused on economic growth than on social equity.

And unusual too, in shifting the emphasis from the hard talk of self-reliance to the gentle assurances conveyed through phrases such as "don't worry" and "we're all in this together".

That was how Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong chose to outline to the nation a new way forward that he said would see both the Government and community doing more to support individuals.

The shift is significant in three ways:

It acknowledges that not only the low-income but the middle-income groups too need more state support to own their homes.

It recognises that in health care, both individual savings and increased risk pooling to achieve universal insurance coverage are necessary.

It commits the Government to higher spending on an enlarged pool of those considered in need and deserving of help, and following from that, the prospect of higher tax burdens on those with income to spare.

What are the implications of this shift? And is this new course that Singapore has embarked on sustainable?

Why now?

THE rebalancing is in response to a changed context globally and locally. Technology and globalisation have caused income gaps to widen, replacing jobs and putting the squeeze on the middle class in developed countries.

As Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said, the fierce pursuit of capitalism has led to stark inequality with the incomes of those at the top "zooming away". At 0.47, Singapore's Gini coefficient - a measure of income inequality - is among the highest in the world.

And the trickle-down of wealth to the middle class has either slowed or stopped. In what has become known as the middle-class squeeze, an economy keeps growing overall but its rewards increasingly accrue to those at the top, as the Economist magazine put it, while wages for those on low to middle incomes stagnate relative to prices.

An indication of how that is playing out in Singapore can be seen in income data. From 2000 to 2012, average monthly household income for the 50th percentile rose 28.1 per cent in real terms to $7,608, compared to a 46.2 per cent increase for the top 10th percentile to $30,379.

In Singapore, a fast-ageing population and shrinking families add to the stresses.

Veteran Member of Parliament Inderjit Singh says: "The rich and higher-income Singaporeans can afford a living in Singapore but the middle- and lower-income are stretching themselves. Singapore has become too expensive. So if we don't lift wages of the low- and middle-income, then someone has to pay for these things."

It is against this backdrop that the Government decided to move in the three key areas of housing, health and education.

It will extend a housing grant of up to $20,000 to middle-income buyers of four-room flats. The Government will ensure that a family on an income of $4,000 a month - about the median monthly household income for a first-time buyer of a four-room flat in a non-mature estate last year - will be able to afford a four-room flat comfortably.

In health care, the national insurance scheme MediShield will be expanded to cover all for life.

Education policy is moving in the direction of greater support for children from poorer, less privileged backgrounds and greater diversity across schools.

As PM Lee said, the old philosophy of "tough love" is no longer enough. "There are some things which individuals cannot do on their own, and there are other things which we can do much better together," he said.

"So we must shift the balance, the community and the Government will have to do more to support individuals. The community can and must take more initiative, organising and mobilising ourselves, solving problems, getting things done."

This new balance should not be about the Government acting alone, however, says Nominated MP Laurence Lien, who is also chief executive of the National Volunteer and Philanthropy Centre.

"In achieving real progress on social issues, the Government needs to involve citizens and the community more proactively in the hard and messy, but creative and opportunity-enhancing, work... otherwise, my concern is that there would be increasing over-dependency on the Government to fix every problem.

"I would like to see the community being equal partners in much of the upcoming work - not just to alleviate the fiscal burden, but also to contribute to the problem-solving process. It is not just about who pays the bills."

To the left?

EVEN as the Government's latest moves to the left cause some to shift in their seats, economists point out that the ruling People's Action Party (PAP) holds fast to its long-standing belief in economic growth through an economy open to investments and foreign talent as the best means to create jobs and raise wages.

It is also unswerving in its belief that long-term planning remains essential to national success, and underlying that, its belief that one-party dominance in the political sphere is what makes that possible.

But within that context, how exactly this new social balance will end up is not yet clear to some observers.

Mr Manu Bhaskaran, chief executive and economist at Centennial Asia Advisors, notes of the new way forward mapped out by PM Lee on Sunday: "What we have got so far is a series of policy changes in response to specific but genuine concerns of the populace, on health, education and housing.

"What we have not got is a sense of the overall framework of the new social model that is being built. Or even whether there is such an overall framework."

Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy senior fellow Donald Low says the Government still sees investments in housing, health care and education as the primary means for creating opportunities for income growth and social mobility for all.

"It is an activist state, but an activist only in a few areas," he says. He notes that PM Lee steered clear of other redistributive measures, such as cash transfers like unemployment and pension benefits.

PAP MP Denise Phua believes that traditional "rules of engagement" in an evolving social compact need continued discussion.

"It is obvious that much homework has been done on the side of the State, and it has more up its sleeves to do more in the coming years. But is it obvious to the other stakeholders - the community and the individual?

"What is the new social contract and is there one? Are there any changes to traditional underpinning rules of engagement such as self-reliance, family remains the first line of defence and work before welfare, for instance? "

As for fiscal sustainability, Dr Jeremy Lim, principal consultant of Insights Health Associates, says that while it is difficult to quantify that actual commitment and the budget impact of the health-care changes, "the new monies needed may not be as large as feared".

"I don't think the new commitments will add billions to the bill. Maybe tens of millions in terms of scale. I suspect many Singaporeans not included in MediShield etc are already utilising health-care services and showing up as 'bad debts', support from Medifund," he says.

But there have already been calls for more - a wider scope for Workfare, which supports low-wage workers through income supplements and training subsidies, and unemployment insurance as economic growth becomes more volatile and jobs less secure.

There is more room for taxes to be made more progressive with higher rates for the wealthy, and also for the Government to draw on a larger portion of the net investment returns from the reserves.

But there is also a risk that the Government's adherence to fiscal prudence will be tested by mounting political pressure to do and spend more.

Says Dr Gillian Koh, senior research fellow at the Institute of Policy Studies: "Will they have to do more? They will have to get a really good feel of what people need, people's expectations, and then reflect on how the State can strengthen social security sustainably. It is a balance between security, sustainability and, if it involves making citizens pay, affordability."

Indeed, PM Lee has often cited a speech by Dr Goh Keng Swee, one of Singapore's founding fathers, in which he observed that while welfare systems were immaculate in their conception, born of the best intentions, the outcomes were often quite different. Unexpected demands and unintended responses from the public often arose, causing programmes to grow beyond their initial intent.

The best way to avoid having to raise subsidies indefinitely to a growing pool of middle class, is to grow wages, says Mr Singh.

"In Singapore, it cannot be that we have First World infrastructure and not First World wages. If we count on the Government to pay for everything in the future, it will be risky," he says.

Singapore's economy must continue to grow. That means creating new sectors for growth, retraining workers, keeping the doors open to investments and helping local companies to grow.

All on board?

THE question is whether a broad majority will back the new social compact, especially if it involves them paying more and receiving no immediate benefit from doing so.

For while the focus has been on the Government's enlarged role, the rebalancing also requires certain segments of the community to shoulder a larger burden. Medical insurance premiums, for example, are set to go up with the move to universal coverage. The plan is to front-load, which means the young and healthy will pay more.

And with the Government signalling higher taxes in future, the question is how much the well-off are willing to bear.

Veteran MP Charles Chong is hopeful that younger Singaporeans will take up the challenge: "It's a question of example. The Government has to show leadership. If they see the Government being tight-fisted, unwilling to help, some of them might say, 'then why should I help?'

"But if the Government says, 'look I'm taking the lead and we are calling on the better off to help as well', I think that's the best possible way to go forward. I'm generally optimistic that people will step up."

Mr S. Rajaratnam, a founding father of modern Singapore, said the country has to be a democracy of deeds and not words. Similarly, how this new social compact evolves and where it settles will be determined not by the words but by the deeds of the State, community and the individual.

Will policy changes reap political dividends? It's hard to say
By Rachel Chang, The Straits Times, 24 Aug 2013

NO SOONER had Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong delivered a National Day Rally (NDR) speech that he said heralded a "major shift", than the opposition Workers' Party characterised it as a step in their direction.

From removing the age limit and exclusions on MediShield insurance, to shortening loan tenures to calculate the affordability of HDB flats, the WP said these were policies it had "long advocated for".

This highlights a new dilemma for the ruling party in enacting measures desired by a large majority of voters.

These may not automatically pay off in increased support as in the past, as they come in the wake of consecutive electoral defeats - last year's Hougang by-election, and this year's Punggol East by-election.

As National University of Singapore Associate Professor Reuben Wong puts it: "There are two possible responses from the voter: the PAP is doing the right thing, so I should support them; or to get the PAP to do this, vote for the WP."

While observers say it's too early to tell which way the scales will tip, there are several factors which they say brighten the picture for the PAP.

First, some of the new policies, especially in health care, will satisfy those who swung away from the PAP for tangible, bread-and-butter reasons, which new policies like MediShield Life now address.

Institute of Policy Studies senior research fellow Gillian Koh cites baby boomers as one such group. In a post-2011 GE survey the IPS did, this group evinced a shift away from supporting the political status quo. A big reason, she argues, was their concerns about health-care bills and burdening their children.

The new policies would then, in reassuring this group, regain some political ground for the Government. And with citizens 65 years and over projected to triple to 900,000 by 2030, the silver voting bloc is set to be a force to contend with.

A second factor is that the PAP's leftward shift puts it and the WP ideologically close together, note observers.

This arguably leaves the WP without a clear ideological brand that other opposition parties, like the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP), have. The SDP's platform centres on civil liberties and equal rights.

Some PAP politicians hope voters take away another message. Embedded in the NDR address, whether in its largesse or in expansion plans for airports and ports, "is the message that all this is only possible if you have some form of certainty that the Government of the day does not have to worry about being returned to power", says veteran PAP MP Charles Chong.

He cites seeing an unfinished flyover during a recent trip to Sri Lanka; the project was halted by a new government coming into power. "One of our major advantages is that we can plan long-term without worrying about a new administration taking over," he says. "That is what PM meant when he said that all of this is only possible if we get our politics right."

Still, after the NDR, some commentators believe the lack of liberalisation in the political sphere will continue to grow support for the opposition. Even as it moves broadly to the left on social policies, the PAP's overall approach remains archly conservative, they say.

Its big shift so far has been confined to spheres like education and health care, while legislation that liberals loathe - like the Internal Security Act, or the Newspaper and Printing Presses Act - remain unchanged. Some bloggers have argued that the Government, whether in announcing licensing restrictions for current affairs websites or pursuing legal action against bloggers and online satirists, has lately tightened the space for political debate even as it slays sacred cows in the social sphere.

But most observers say it is premature to conclude that the Government thinks that those agitating for greater civil liberties are a noisy minority who can be safely ignored.

"This is a party that is used to proceeding cautiously because it has nurtured a political culture that is prepared to tolerate (only) incremental changes," says former Institute of Southeast Asian Studies academic Russell Heng.

"That structure is coming apart and it knows some of that old caution must be thrown to the wind in all areas. If there is a lack of synchrony in the pace of change between sectors, it could well be circumstantial factors like the individual civil servant or minister dealing with each case in hand."

NUS' Dr Wong says unlike in areas like health care, where clamour for more support has been overwhelming, "there isn't the same broad pressures on civil liberties yet. They are responding to what is the most urgent first".

Former Nominated MP Zulkifli Baharudin sees the supposed signs of the ruling party clamping down on debate as a function of it being put on the back foot by the bruising political environment of the last three years. "But if PM Lee is successful in seizing back the political agenda with this NDR, then there is less temptation to be difficult in handling some of the thorny issues like online discussions. It's only if you don't feel that you are in control that you have to... react strongly to everything," he says.

This NDR represents the PAP's boldest move since 2011 to seize back the initiative but if voters believe the party was forced into changing, it may not reap the political dividends it deserves.

It is not just about economics
By Nicholas Fang, Published TODAY, 27 Aug 2013

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s recent National Day Rally speech was a bold statement of the Singapore Government’s commitment to address key concerns of its citizens while charting a path to continued success for the country as a player on the global stage.

While short on details, which will typically be unveiled in the following weeks and months, Mr Lee’s speech has been hailed as a landmark in his term as Prime Minister thus far, given the directions and changes it spelt out.

The bulk of the speech focused on internal issues and challenges and was informed by the year-long Our Singapore Conversation.

As such, key concerns shared by many Singaporeans, including those about housing, education and healthcare, made up the main thrust.

But Mr Lee also looked at some major initiatives aimed at ensuring Singapore’s continued leadership in key sectors, both regionally and around the world.

Inevitably, criticism has already been raised, with questions being asked if the measures will do enough to assuage the fears and doubts harboured by an increasingly disgruntled and vocal electorate.


Yet, his decision to conclude the speech with details of major infrastructure projects designed to maintain Singapore’s relevance on the global stage should be a reassuring signal to both Singaporeans and international stakeholders alike.

The evolving Singapore society and more vocal and expressive population has seen the Government having to react to and address different issues through different means compared to the early years of the country’s nationhood.

The international community, comprising foreign nations, investors and regional partners, has watched these developments with interest and, in some cases, concern.

In the absence of a wealth of natural resources, much of Singapore’s international standing stems from its strong economy and stable political environment, which has attracted investment dollars and foreigners to its shores to live and work.

The apparent shifting of the Government’s priorities to a more local context understandably gives pause to outsiders considering Singapore’s viability as an investment destination and even as a place to work in. This is especially so given the recent concerns raised by Singaporeans over the burgeoning number of foreigners who have chosen to come here.

While the fears and concerns of Singaporeans should rightfully be the focus of the Government, forces of globalisation and an ever more interconnected world mean that the impact of the external environment cannot be ignored.

Rising competition, not just from nearby rivals such as Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand but also Asian giants like China and India, looks set to be a regular challenge.


Mr Lee highlighted the aviation and shipping sectors in particular as those that Singapore needs to continue to grow and develop in order to maintain a leadership position in the region and stave off competition from other capitals like Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur.

To that end, Changi Airport is being expanded and beefed up with new terminals and runways, as well as a major retail and recreation project, some of which will come on line in the 2020s.

The port district in the south of the country is also being restructured, with most of the present port infrastructure being shifted westwards to Tuas, where a new port facility with almost double the current capacity is being built and expected to be ready by the late 2020s.

This, too, is aimed at helping Singapore remain one of the leading hub ports in the world.

Besides the economic benefits of these major infrastructure moves, the unveiling of these ambitious long-term plans serves to signal to all observers that the powers that be are thinking ahead and not just fixated on the immediate issues.


And yet, as Singapore approaches its 50th birthday as an independent state, issues other than economic growth and development also bear noting when considering what lies ahead for the next half century.

The Singapore Institute of International Affairs, the oldest independent think-tank in the country, is launching its Future 50 (F50) programme that aims to map out The 50-Year Future for Singapore in Asia and the World.

As part of the two-year programme, which will conclude before National Day in 2015, the impact of changing geopolitics, social trends and environmental issues on Singapore and the region will be examined, along with economic considerations.

In terms of geopolitical developments, Singapore’s role in the venerable institution of the Association of South-east Asian Nations (ASEAN) will be important to watch, along with the relevance of ASEAN itself and its ability to present a strong, collective voice within the resurgent Asian landscape.

With 2015 being set as a target for the creation of an ASEAN Economic Community, the relationships between the 10 member states of diverse levels of economic development will come under scrutiny in the next two years.

The ability of ASEAN to achieve economic and other forms of integration will determine its relevance and credibility in the years ahead.


At the same time, the recent transboundary haze that originated in Indonesia and blighted Singapore and Malaysia demonstrated how environmental challenges and crises are becoming increasingly international in nature.

Singapore’s size and location mean it is often subject to the vagaries of climate change that may or may not be caused by the actions of its neighbours.

As such, there is a need for the Government to continue working to create leverage and influence to safeguard a clean and sustainable environment for its people.

These issues will shape the next few decades for Singapore and the region. Mr Lee is probably right when he says “the sky is the limit” for the country in terms of space or possibilities, if the plans he outlined can be carried out.

This is grounded in the fact that more living spaces will be created after the consolidation of the air and sea port facilities is carried out.

But the emphasis on internal issues should not detract from some of the very real challenges that involve Singapore’s international positioning and standing.

Indeed, the process of coming together and working to keep ahead of competition could even serve to bind Singaporeans more closely as a united people.

Nicholas Fang is the Executive Director of the Singapore Institute of International Affairs and the Co-Director of the institute’s F50 programme. He is also a Nominated Member of Parliament.

Reminder of Singapore's progress

I APPLAUD the new Step-Up grant to help low-income families living in two-room HDB flats upgrade to three-room units ("8,000 flat owners stand to benefit from Step-Up grant"; Aug 22).

The family mentioned in the report made me reflect on what "low-income" means in the Singapore context.

In this instance, the household comprised a single mother, her two children and their maid, living in a two-room flat bought on the resale market.

This Singaporean picture of a low-income family is probably at odds with the global definition of a needy household.

In most countries, having a maid is considered to be the sole preserve of the wealthy, not to mention the concept of home ownership.

We should celebrate how far we have progressed as a country over the last 48 years, bearing in mind that our definition of "low-income" is akin to what many around the world consider to be middle- or even high-income.

Past policies and sacrifices made by the pioneer generation got us to where we are today, and it is up to the current generation to ensure that we continue to build on these successes.

We need to be mindful that these achievements be seen in the context of a population that works hard to maintain them, and are not entitlements that we mistakenly expect to continue into perpetuity with no additional effort from us.

Tan Suan Jin

ST Forum, 30 Aug 2013

Strong support for NDR measures: REACH poll
While majority backed scrapping PSLE aggregate scores, the measure drew the least support.
Channel NewsAsia, 3 Sep 2013

There is strong support among Singaporeans for the National Day Rally (NDR) announcements, going by the findings of a REACH survey, with at least three quarters of the respondents backing five out of six specific policy measures.

Notably, the support was less overwhelming for the scrapping of Primary School Leaving Examination aggregate scores: Only 59 per cent supported the change to a scoring system where students are placed in bands, similar to the O and A Levels.

In comparison, 76 per cent backed the other education policy announcement to set aside 40 Primary 1 places in each school for pupils without any connections to the school. Overall, 65 per cent felt that the new education measures will “better help children develop their potential to the maximum”, said REACH, the government’s feedback arm.

The telephone poll was conducted between August 20 and 29 to gauge Singaporeans’ sentiments towards the Rally which was held on August 18. In total, 853 respondents aged 20 and above, “who had heard or read the NDR speech and have some knowledge of the issues raised in the speech”, were randomly selected and polled, REACH said. The sample size is largely representative of the population, it added.

On the education measures, REACH Chairman Amy Khor said that it was “understandable that Singaporeans have expressed some uncertainties about how the policy changes will be implemented and how these will impact their children”. She added that she hoped there will be greater assurance when more details are announced.

The housing and healthcare measures received overwhelming support, with at least 80 per cent of the respondents backing the changes. The removal of the age limit for the Community Health Assist Scheme got the strongest support (90 per cent).

Overall, more than seven in 10 of the respondents agreed or strongly agreed with the statements that the Rally announcements “boosted their confidence in Singapore’s future” and that “together, Singaporeans will be able to deal with the challenges ahead”.


No comments:

Post a Comment